Map of accumulated mining reclamation in Eastern Kentucky

Integration of landscape ecology and ecosystem service assessment for spatially-explicit appraisal of surface mining reclamation benefits in eastern Kentucky

Surface mining has impacted a large portion (> 10,000 ha) of eastern Kentucky’s land. These lands are important parts of the Appalachian forest landscape, providing invaluable ecological goods and services (EGS) to the human society. It has been reported that surface mining can inflict dire environmental consequences ranging from soil degradation to water pollution and biodiversity loss, and such negative influences may persist for a long time if without proper mining reclamation.

Restoration of degraded mine land to forest, although ideal, often finds difficult to implement at large scales. This is partially due to limited resources and techniques, but also partially due to our limited cost-benefit analysis that hinders the willingness of various stakeholders and policymakers to commit the due capital to this process.

Studies have begun to employ ecosystem service assessment as a framework to analyze the benefits of surface mining reclamation. However, such studies often conduct the assessment at the individual mining site level, and lack the consideration of the spatial heterogeneity and dynamics of the ecological, social, and economical processes at large scales where numerous abandoned mining sites need to be collectively considered.

In this research, we propose to integrate landscape ecology into ecosystem service assessment to address the interactions between patterns and processes at large spatial and broad temporal scales. We employ remote sensing and GIS to map the dynamics of mining and reclamation activities over a three-decade time span, and develop new approaches to take consideration of scaling effects when assessing ecosystem services spatially explicitly with the InVEST model.

Our end research products (ecosystem services assessment maps under different working scenarios) can provide a more comprehensive appraisal of the benefits and trade-offs for various reclamation strategies. Moreover, we envision this study can help to identify hotspots for reclamation and assist the decision making process for allocating the limited resources at landscape scales.

Jian Yang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Forest Landscape Ecology
(859) 257-5820 | | 213 T.P. Cooper Building